Groundhog Day begone

January, with all that emphasis on resolutions and making new habits, has wrapped up. Phew. I think most of us set our sites high, ending a bit exhausted and discouraged. Then here comes Groundhog Day, with the promise of spring (more implied change) and the metaphor that the pop culture movie created, i.e. to NOT live the same patterns (mistakes?) again and again in an endless Bill Murray loop.

I didn’t post last week, counter to my resolve to post weekly, for two reasons:
1) I was in jury duty ALL DAY Weds. as the court tried to empanel a jury for a DWI case. That was a day with an undercurrent of the difficulty in changing habits. All around me, fellow potential jurors had tales of victimization at the hands of drunk drivers, often repeat offenders. Change is hard.
2) Friday I was excited to attend a continuing education workshop led by Rick Hanson, author of Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom. I’d already purchased the book before I knew he was coming to town. Hanson talked about the easy, concrete ways to make changes in our brains that last, certainly a necessary foundation for changing behavior.

Juxtaposition of these two events shows the range of beliefs: change is easy, change is hard. Which is it? Whichever we adopt is powerful in steering our lives.

It’s both–and mostly depends on focus. If we look for big picture, total life revolution, we’re likely to be disappointed. Sometimes, massive steps are essential: if you’re arrested for DWI, it’s time to never again get behind the wheel after having a drink.

Shifting focus clarifies small revolutions. If you expected your January efforts to completely transform you, you’re probably disappointed. One mom described planting flower seeds in a pot with her son. An hour later, the boy was sitting on a stool by the pot, staring at the dirt. “Watching for my flowers to appear,” he explained. We laugh at his innocence. But are we applying the same unrealistic standards to ourselves? Scolding ourselves for not keeping our resolve 110%? Giving up because the pace is too slow, and we’ll never arrive?

In the words of Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson’s character in Star Wars: Episode I), “your focus determines your reality.” Rick Hanson (only a psychologist–not a Jedi master) said this is fact. When we focus on what we don’t accomplish, and how we feel badly, the brain connections for those feelings are strengthened, reinforcing the endless loop. If we can take in how each cookie resisted, each yoga practice, each deep breath is part of action on the path to change, the brain reinforces positive instead, keeping us out of the Groundhog Day rut. Reminds me of my old favorite, the “Did Do” list.

What have you accomplished this year? Tally the moments and take credit!